Diabetes and sexual dysfunction
Sex is an important part of relationships for adults of all ages. An unfulfilling sex life can lead to feelings of guilt and rejection, causing problems within a relationship. Levels of sexual desire vary widely between different people, and can change over time.
In this section ‘sexual dysfunction’ refers to having problems with vaginal lubrication and sensation in women, and the inability to produce and/or maintain an erection or having problems with sensation in men.
These sexual problems can be very difficult to discuss, particularly if the cause has not been identified. Therefore it’s important to know how to recognise the causes and symptoms of sexual dysfunction, so that it can be identified, discussed and treated or managed.
Sexual dysfunction is more common in people with diabetes because poorly controlled diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nervous system. In women, this can restrict blood flow to the vagina, causing dryness and interfering with arousal, and in men can restrict blood flow to the penis, causing erection problems.
In men and women, nerve damage can result in loss of sensation. Other problems associated with diabetes such as heart disease and depression can increase the chances of sexual dysfunction in people with diabetes. Medication taken for these or other conditions can also contribute.
Problems around sexual dysfunction are often complex, and can be connected to emotional factors such as relationship difficulties, poor self-image, embarassment and guilt. Tiredness, stress, alcohol, cigarettes and some recreational drugs also play their part.
Reviewed November 2009